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Homer, S. (2000). Mapping the terrain of theoretical anti-humanism. Free Associations, 7(4):29-51.

(2000). Free Associations, 7(4):29-51

Mapping the terrain of theoretical anti-humanism

Sean Homer

In His 1992 Welleck Lecture Series, The Seeds of Time,1 Fredric Jameson discusses what he sees as the fundamental antinomies of postmodernism that is to say, those theoretical and ideological dilemmas that cannot be resolved by lifting them onto some higher philosophical plane, as in the older modernist discourse of dialectical contradiction. One of the four foundational antinomies that Jameson identifies directly concerns the issues I wish to speak about today, that is, concepts of human nature. In what is ostensibly an anti-foundationalist and anti-essentialist age there has been a surprising revival of interest in nature itself, with the ecological and green movement, and more precisely with notions of human nature. For Jameson, just how these beliefs in nature and human nature can coexist with the anti-foundationalism of postmodernism is one of the great mysteries and paradoxes of the moment. A paradox that serves to raise the question of the philosophical status of contemporary concerns with “nature” and “human nature”. To paraphrase Jameson's argument, what is under discussion today is not so much questions of nature or the natural but rather specific ideologies of nature and its corollary human nature. The pertinent question we should be asking, therefore, is not what is human nature but why certain ideologies of nature and human nature have resurfaced today with such virulence at this particular historical juncture.

I am not going to answer this question directly but rather I will endeavour to historically and theoretically situate recent conflicts between humanism and theoretical anti-humanism; debates that have predominantly taken place within post-war French philosophy and theoretical discourse. In so doing I want to underline the political aspect of these debates.

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